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Polski Day prep provides chance to give back

From left, twins Annika and Adrianna Smith, 13, prepare food with their grandmother Betty Kolenda for the upcoming 33rd anniversary Polski Day celebration on May 6. Kolenda is one of the founding members of Polski Day.

by Moira Cullings

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Polish traditions at All Saints Parish here have deep roots, and generations of parishioners continue to keep their heritage alive through an annual Polski Day celebration.

Betty Kolenda is no exception.

To give back to the community she loves, Kolenda has volunteered for the celebration since it began three decades ago.

“If you’ve got a parish that you’ve belonged to for any length of time, you have an attachment there,” said Kolenda.

Growing up, Kolenda received every sacrament in the parish — formerly known as St. Joseph-St. Benedict Church — and hopes it is where she will eventually attend her final Mass.

“It’s one of the most beautiful churches in Kansas City,” she said. “Of course, I’m a little prejudiced.”

For Kolenda, Polski Day is the perfect way to give back to her church and Polish community.

The purpose of the celebration is to commemorate the signing of the Polish Constitution of Freedom, which occurred on May 3, 1791.

All the profits from the event go toward preserving All Saints church, school and parish grounds. This year will also help the parish’s renovation of its former school, which will become a multipurpose hall.

The hands-on preparation for the event starts about a month in advance, with a group of volunteers meeting to make all the cabbage rolls to be sold — something the parish is rightfully known for — in one day.

“We start at 8 o’clock and we’re not finished until about 2,” said Kolenda.

A few weeks after that, Kolenda will join the group to make cookies and other sweets for attendees to enjoy.

The actual celebration starts with a parade and includes Polish music, food and a polka Mass. Elaborate costumes and traditional Polish treats make the celebration particularly unique.

“Someone always speaks about our Polish heritage and what Poland means to a lot of us,” said Kolenda.

When Kolenda was growing up, All Saints had a much larger Polish community, and the parish would celebrate Mass in Polish each week.

Now that the demographics of the area have changed, the Masses are said instead in English and Spanish, but its Polish parishioners continue their Polski Day tradition each year.

“We have a great turnout because people always want to celebrate their Polish heritage,” she said.

What makes the celebration even more meaningful for Kolenda is the fact that her children and grandchildren still participate alongside her.

“I’ve always appreciated having our family here. I feel that it’s just part of our heritage,” she added.

Kolenda’s favorite part, though, is seeing old friends who come back in town for the celebration.

“It’s just fun to see them year after year after year,” she said.

“A lot of their children come back now,” she continued, “and they always tell me who they are. It’s great seeing your old friends.”

Kolenda can’t recall ever missing a Polski Day and feels grateful to give back to her home parish.

“I think it’s very rewarding because the priest needs money all the time to do something [at the church],” she said. “We feel like we’re keeping up our heritage by keeping the parish open.

“To us, it’s really well worth keeping.”

This year’s celebration will take place on May 6. For more information, visit the website at: www.polskiday.com.

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage the website, social media channels and Archbishop Naumann's Facebook page. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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